OP/ED – Part #3 of 3- County Park Fees Increase: Summation and Solutions

www.tillamookcountypioneer.net

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sue Aalykke contacted the Pioneer several weeks ago about gathering information and questions about the County’s recent increase in county park/parking and boat ramp fees in 2021. Aalykke had sent a letter to the editor – call to action* and since then she has done her research about funding for parks, TLT funds and more. Aalykke has approached this review starting with the problem statement (#1); the value of wellness (#2) and this is the final in the op/ed series – Solutions (#3). Tillamook County residents are already “paying” for county parks; and as Sue suggests, need to have more say about these new fees, how they are spent and also about TLT funds and expenditures. Someone should do something – Thanks Sue for doing something and providing suggestions and solutions.
To express your concerns about this issue you can e-mail: publiccomments@co.tilamook.or.us These comments will then be given to all County Commissioners and will become part of the public record. You can also e-mail JoAnn Woelfle executive director of Tillamook County parks at jwoelfle@co.tillamook.or.us It is not too late to have this order reversed. Ask to have a public vote on this issue and a vote on whether to add the new areas. Please share.

By Susan Aalykke, Tillamook
Tillamook County is rich in natural beauty and waterways that has enabled Tillamook County Parks to create a park system that is enjoyed by locals and sought after by tourists. The philosophy when parks came into being around the US is that they are meant to be enjoyed by now and in the future by all. To make public parks inclusive they have traditionally been free or minimal fees are charged. That philosophy is probably why our city parks are free, other county parks, state parks and national parks charge minimal fees. Most cities, counties realize that although private entities often charge higher prices there must be a draw that is free to attract tourists and folks to move to or visit an area. City, county budgets are built to keep this concept alive.

Tillamook County is rich. Tillamook County citizens voted in the Tillamook Transient Lodging tax, implemented January 2014, which is a permanent 10% tax that provides a way for tourists to pay their share for services necessary to deal with an increased temporary population, fund projects broadly related to tourism, promotion of the Oregon Coast, fund acquisition of land, ability to build or improve facilities related to tourism. An impressive amount of grants has funded major projects throughout the county, saving money for the county general fund and recipients budgets. The TLT fund, in the July 1, 2020-2021 Tillamook County statement of budget has a revenue balance $4,582,750.

Click here for the complete TLT revenue report. https://www.tillamookcountypioneer.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/TLT-Revenue-by-CY-v19.4c.pdf

Tillamook County is rich. As reported in the 2018-19 Statement of Revenues, Expenditures and Changes in Fund Balances the General Fund for the year ended June 30, 2019 of the county’s annual financial report (CAPR) had a fiscal year-end balance of $15,755,58. This is the last year I could access.

Tillamook County Parks Department is solvent, doing well, in the last 3 years stashing money away in Acct no.9050 $1,689,030 for land acquisition listed as expenditures. $600,000.00 in account #9084 for infrastructure, $173,750 in Acct No. 9995 unappropriated ending fund balance, $25,000 in Acct.no. 9900 is operating contingency. If these funds were reduced by small margins the short fall of ($465,700) for fiscal year 20-21 would be covered.

Tillamook County Commissioners are poor on transparency. As essential workers the Tillamook County Board of Commissioners (TBC), support staff have continued to work. Because of the COVID pandemic public buildings have been closed, had limited access to the public. The TBC did what is required by law to inform the public. They did not put out press releases stating specific intentions, ask for citizen input with a week or more to respond to this issue. The Tillamook County library has been closed so access to computers or the HH newspaper was unavailable. Restaurants do not have newspapers or computers for community use because of COVID. The TBC website is not updated in all areas, for example the orders, resolutions. Past agendas are available only by audio. Only board meetings are televised. The Oct.14, 2020 order #20-051 I needed to research this issue is not posted. I had to call to request a copy. There are at least 4 broken links in the Oct. 14th agenda document under legislative-administrative. The summary of TLT tax revenue could not be forwarded due to a failed computer virus scan. I missed 45 minutes of a 1hr. 15 min. tele-conference meeting because of not being accepted into the meeting. A phone call to the county commissioner’s office finally got me in. The secretary told me I could have attended the meeting in- person but the legal notice said no in-person attendance offered. When I asked to many questions I was put on “the list”, call county counsel. When I mentioned the freedom of information act to county counsel, I was told they do not have a form. I was to write in detail what information was wanted, they would analyze how much it would cost for information and get back to me. The point is what is required by law is not adequately working in the best of times, worse during COVID, so it is not meeting the law. I called Senator Betsy Johnson, discussing the fee issue, the lack of transparency. She felt there should be outreach for citizen input and it should be put to a vote.
TBC finalized several items during this time, agreeing to buy the 6-acre Jensen property in Pacific City for $3.250,000.00 using TLT funds and proposed day use access fees as stated in the September 4, 2020 article in the Tillamook County Pioneer. Commissioner Baertlein, said “This is a great one we could not pass up.” I personally feel only a rich person, government agency, corporation, or non- profit would feel this is a great price for 6 acres of unimproved property. It is now in the due diligence phase closing in 6 months from the time the offer was accepted. In the 20-21 budget Pacific City/Woods parking mgmt. fund $800,000 was transferred into revenue, parking. Approximately $770,000 is listed in expenditures with statement contracted service, no mention what for.

The Tillamook Board of Commissioners fail at empathy for the citizens of Tillamook county as they show no acknowledgement by their actions, under the circumstance of 2020 events, that lack of transparency and raising fees is not appropriate. The order states the TBC deems the fee increase rates to be reasonable and fair. They are not reasonable and fair when factfinding has shown these fees are 100% more than what the other 6 counties on the coast charge for their county parks day use access fees. The fees are not reasonable and fair when citizen input was not asked for and citizens were not allowed to vote on this. Instead of looking at the locals and tourists as dollar signs TCBC needs to look at us as people who are in need.

Tillamook County Parks have generated $617,359.00 from 2017-2021 (They anticipate $120.000 in 2020-21 down from $190,000 the year before) yet they do not receive this for park funding. Tillamook County parks should not be expected to provide funding for law enforcement anywhere. That should come out of the TC general fund. Pacific city has been guaranteed any revenue from proposed parking fees in Pacific City will go back to them. Memaloose Boat launch needs can be addressed thru a Marine Board grant and or TLT revenue.

This last tourist season has shown us that Tillamook county has a capacity limit. County officials should analyze and learn from this. Goals for future development may need to be adjusted because of this new information i.e. it might not be wise to move toward the development of a conference center.

Solutions

*The TBC needs to change priorities during COVID from land acquisition, to helping citizens survive the crisis, by providing more grants that fit criteria for TLT funds.
* Any decisions made that affect funding should be temporary with a 2- year re-evaluation.
*In the next voting cycle let voters decide if Tillamook County parks (TCP) should receive transient lodging tax money as revenue either thru guaranteed grants or whatever is legal according to TLT criteria with an agreed upon percentage like 20% of the TCP budget. Voters should also decide if day use access fees should be raised and expanded to current non-fee areas. The parking/ boat access areas in Pacific City who have not been in the fee program for the last 10 years should join in at the current rate.
*Tillamook County has two new revenue sources starting in 2021. The passage of a tax on vaping products and a $2.00 increase on cigarettes will increase general fund revenue. Short term rentals of less than 30 days a year will now charge TLT tax increasing that revenue. Law enforcement should come out of the general fund. Work toward having Pacific City pay for their law enforcement. Negotiate with the large corporations like Tillamook Cheese factory, Nestucca Ridge Development to contribute to law enforcement.
*Develop a volunteer law enforcement group that will patrol parks, beaches, etc. during the high tourist season. Research how other communities do this.
*Negotiate with Fairchild Air force Base to have them pay the costs for a vault toilet, money for garbage bins and some collection fees for Bay Ocean spit and gravel grading every 2 years in addition to what they are already providing.
*Have Visit Tillamook Coast come up with a catchy way to inform tourists when certain areas of the county are at capacity so tourists know ahead of time not to come to Tillamook County or certain areas of the County during high season. Include the logo, Pack it in, Pack it out on this site. This could be accessed on the Visit Tillamook Coast web site, with contributors in different areas of the county giving input. Encourage news stations, weatherman to check this link so viewers have a heads up.
* As a temporary measure, negotiate with the porta-potty company to expand their services during COVID to include cleaning permanent toilets at various county parks, to eliminate the need for porta-potties and closed Vault toilets. Parks would contract their company, like they contract garbage pick-up.
*Provide a list of possible park needs to senior class teachers for senior class projects at the beginning of the school year. Be specific. If we still have Boy Scout programs, Rotary and church/Robys community help days contact them for county parks clean-ups- projects. Ask the cross- country coaches to have an area clean-up on beaches, paths etc. Parks supply the bags, and final pick-up.
* Utilize the Clatsop County Parks and Douglas CP master plans for sources of funding, grants, volunteer ideas.
* Utilize the book at the Tillamook county library reference section for grant sources.
*Annual passes for day use access should not require license numbers. This makes them more user friendly and helps in following COVID guidelines for social distancing. Have annual passes for sale at county park registration booths, Tillamook Chamber of Commerce, on-line thru TCP web site so they are more accessible for purchase.

Sue Aalykke’s Letter to the editor – https://www.tillamookcountypioneer.net/call-for-action-ask-county-commissioners-to-reconsider-park-fees-increase/

OP/ED: County Park User Fees Increase – https://www.tillamookcountypioneer.net/op-ed-analysis-of-increase-in-county-parks-day-use-fees-series-1-of-3/

https://www.tillamookcountypioneer.net/op-ed-part-2-of-3-county-park-fees-increase-how-incorporating-wellness-into-funding-decisions-save-money-and-provide-inclusion-for-all/